The Story of Pop: 2002 (Chapter 45)

Offering up another classic chart hit of two whole decades ago, this is The Story of Pop: 2002. This week: a huge hit from one of the biggest players in hip hop music of the 21st century…

  • Artist: Missy Elliott
  • Song: Work It
  • Released: 04/11/2002
  • Writers / Producers: Missy Elliott / Timbaland
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #6
  • Weeks on Chart: 10

In a time long before Nicki Minaj, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, there was one leading female name in hip hop music that stood proud above them all. Having broken through in the early 90s as part of short lived girl group Sista, Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott began her solo career in 1997 with the release of her debut album Supa Dupa Fly.

Working almost extensively throughout her career with longtime collaborator Timbaland, early hits like “The Rain”, “All ‘N My Grill” and “Hot Boyz” established her as a worthy contender in the game. She also of course, memorably topped the UK charts in 1998 on “I Want You Back” with Mel B on her first solo outing away from the Spice Girls.

But for Missy, it was the release of her third album Miss E … So Addictive in 2001 that bought her her real international acclaim and success, selling over a million copies and spawning Transatlantic top 10 hits including the iconic “Get Ur Freak On”, “One Minute Man” featuring Ludacris and “4 My People”, notably remixed by Basement Jaxx. Anticipation was therefore high for her fourth album, Under Construction, which arrived in the last quarter of 2002. And on the strength of its first single, “Work It”, her innovation, tongue in cheek humour and absolute fire was all still very much in tact.

Sampling Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass”, Run DMC’s “Peter Piper” and Rock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three’s “Request Line”, it was an unusual yet racy little number (“Is it worth it? / Let me work it / I put my thang down, flip it and reverse it”) that one critic described as “turning the tables on male rappers, taking charge of the sex game, matching their lewdest, rudest rhymes, and also featuring the most notorious backmasked vocal of the year.”

By which of course, they meant the reverse vocal effects that crop up in the song, which were actually an accident in the studio but which Missy and Timbaland decided to keep in in the event. This combined with the use of an elephant sound effect as a double entendre and some huge beats made it for one of the most quirky sounding records around at that time, regardless of genre.

The song’s video – which also went onto win Best Video at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2003 – saw Missy pay tribute to both Aaliyah (who she had worked with extensively throughout her career), and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes of TLC, both of whom had passed away in the previous 18 months.

Peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, here in the UK it gave Missy another top 10 smash, reaching #6. The Under Construction album followed a week later, selling over 350,000 copies Stateside in its first week, eventually going onto top the sales of Miss E … So Addictive by selling 2.1 million there alone.

Just one more single from the album came in the form of another Ludacris collaboration, “Gossip Folks” – which was another top 10 hit here both sides of the Atlantic in January 2003 thanks to a remix by Fatboy Slim. Like a lot of her material, “Work It” still sounds engagingly fresh and forward thinking two decades on – but then, it’s testament to the genius of Missy Elliott.

Don’t forget to follow our brand new playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 2002. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments, Tweet us or message us on Instagram, using the hashtag #StoryofPop2002.

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